The Law of Peoples

John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), including the paper “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.”

Summary from Publisher:

This book consists of two parts: the essay “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” first published in 1997, and “The Law of Peoples,” a major reworking of a much shorter article by the same name published in 1993.

The Law of Peoples extends the idea of a social contract to the Society of Peoples and lays out the general principles that can and should be accepted by both liberal and non-liberal societies as the standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. In particular, it draws a crucial distinction between basic human rights and the rights of each citizen of a liberal constitutional democracy. It explores the terms under which such a society may appropriately wage war against an “outlaw society,” and discusses the moral grounds for rendering assistance to non-liberal societies burdened by unfavorable political and economic conditions.

Table of Contents:


The Law of Peoples
The First Part of Ideal Theory
The Law of Peoples as Realistic Utopia
Why Peoples and Not States?
Two Original Positions
The Principles of the Law of Peoples
Democratic Peace and Its Stability
Society of Liberal Peoples: Its Public Reason

The Second Part of Ideal Theory
Toleration of Nonliberal Peoples
Extension to Decent Hierarchical Peoples
Decent Consultation Hierarchy
Human Rights
Comments on Procedure of the Law of Peoples
Concluding Observations

Nonideal Theory
Just War Doctrine: The Right to War
Just War Doctrine: Conduct of War
Burdened Societies
On Distributive Justice among Peoples

Public Reason and the Law of Peoples
Reconciliation to Our Social World
The Idea of Public Reason Revisited
The Idea of Public Reason
The Content of Public Reason
Religion and Public Reason in Democracy
The Wide View of Public Political Culture
On the Family as Part of the Basic Structure
Questions about Public Reason


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Electronic Excerpt [pdf]